There are several things that set my stomach aflutter whenever I step off a plane in San Francisco: a simmering hot bowl of pho topped with bright pink thin slices of steak still gradually turning brown at Pho Tan Hoa in Union Square, the roast chicken at the always lovely Zuni Cafe.
Once these items have been checked off the eating list, however, a new craving inevitably sets in: Mexican. While New York does have any number of decent Mexican places, the tacos and enchiladas at California’s ubiquitous taquerias always seem — to me — far superior.
So, when a break in book events and book store visits recently led me to Oakland, where my friend Ann casually mentioned an excellent little Mexican joint nearby, I immediately said, Let’s Go …
The smell is what will get you from the moment you enter Taqueria Las Comadres, a truly tiny place located in a small warren of shops in Oakland’s Montclair Village. The many containers filled with shredded chicken, pork, chunks of beef, all laced with Mexican spices, will call to you right away.
Your choices are simple — burritos ($5.70 to $7), tacos ($2.45 to $2.75), quesadillas ($2.50 to $6.50) and tostadas ($6 to $6.75) are the mains.
You line up at the counter, make your pick and then select which meat fillings you’d like in them …
… and your meal is ready in a matter of seconds.
It’s about as no frills as you can get.
I wish I could say more about the food we put away but it was consumed with such swiftness that no time was wasted dissecting the flavors.
All of it was, simply, fantastic. The tostada (pictured above), piled high with a mound of shredded chicken, was inhaled far too quickly. The platter of three enchiladas ($9.25 with rice and beans and a can of soda) disappeared in a flash.
And my three-taco platter (also $9.25 with rice, beans and soda) — oh, it was divine. One came filled with hunks of beef so well-seasoned they were intensely flavorful; the second came filled with chicken simmered to incredible softness and the third, a wet pork filling, was as packed with spices as it was tender.
The other great thing about these tacos were that even though I took a while to get around to eating them — having to photograph them first and all — the hard shells were so sturdy they didn’t turn soggy at all so each bite had some nice crunch to it.
The icing on all of this was the condiments bar, featuring a range of salsas, chunks of raw onions, limes, cilantro and sliced jalapenos.
As restaurants go, Taqueria Las Comadres may not get as much ink as fancier and far more famous establishments in the Bay Area.
But that’s OK with me, really. A place that fine and small, with just four little tables and a few bar seats, I’m happy to keep this our little (sort of) secret.
Taqueria Las Comadres, 2081 Mountain Boulevard (Montclair Village), Oakland, Calif., 510.339.9002